27 April, 2011

Genealogy Blogger Anita Wills Interviews Nancy Gershman about "Ancestor Photo-Ops"

Anita Wills, host of “Anita Talks Genealogy”, interviewed me about my Ancestor Dreamscape work on April 11, 2011 from her California studio. Wills, the author of two books Pieces of the Quilt: The Mosaic of An African-American Family, and Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color is a specialist in African-American and Native American genealogy research. 

Listen to the mp3 of our interview (fast forward to 07:23)

She has a special interest in Ancestor Dreamscapes because she believes there is a spiritual connection when you see a resemblance between yourself and your ancestors. “Otherwise,” says Wills, “it’s just an oral history.” In addition to sharing innumerable tips on backing up one’s genealogy research, Wills expressed particular excitement about the benefits of creating a “photo-op” with one’s ancestors. Digitally, that is. This morning she shared her innermost thoughts with me about what an Ancestor Dreamscape would mean to her personally.
“Putting the memories from past and present together, a step I never thought about - – this was an eye-opener for me. I never thought about taking a picture of myself and super-imposing it on a photograph of my ancestors. I have pictures from the past, but this would be just like being there. I often go to Chestnut County, Pennsylvania where my great grandfather Samuel Ruth and his mother Leah Warner lived, and I can see doing an Ancestor Dreamscape where I stand there, with them. The Ancestor Dreamscape then becomes ”the” picture I have of Samuel and his mother and me! I can already see them there in my mind with me. My people, who walked here and lived here.  My great grandfather was a white man who descended from a German father and an African mother. That father had a farm and two or three slaves. But Samuel chose to carry the Ruth name.
I have pictures they took in the area back then in the 1800s. It’s a rural area, full of Dutch farms and part of the Underground Railroad. Never thought of putting myself in the picture before. But when somebody says, you look a lot like your grandmother – it would be amazing to see my great great grandmother’s picture and my picture together. It would really show how we do look alike. 
It would be spiritual for me.”

Heritage or “Roots” travel

Anita acknowledged that she was looking recently for a travel agent who could take her back to Guinea where her great great grandmother lived. She found out what tribe Leah was from –part of the Keita and Camray tribe that came in from Mali to Guinea, around the 1300s. Here are some suggestions I gave Anita for fulfilling her dream, which I will share with you now.  

To arrange a heritage travel group vacation, contact Adam Glenn, President of Family Roots Travel at (800) 264-2895 or email him at a.glenn@familyrootstravel.com.

Before you go on a heritage vacation, think about setting up a variety of shots:

  1. Pose in the exact spot depicted in your family’s archival photos
  2. Wear authentic clothing from that time period
  3. Hold meaningful objects passed down to you from these very distant ancestors
  4. Pose in front of your ancestral home, or even on the street outside where your ancestors once lived 
  5. Pose with living relatives residing in or near your ancestral home

When you return from your trip, tell me your vision for an Ancestral Dreamscape and I will work with scanned versions of your vintage photos and the heritage vacation photos I collect from you digitally. 

The final deliverable?

·         Restoring and retouching at no extra cost, unless your photos are severely damaged
·         High resolution scans of all your photos, at no extra charge
·         High quality 8x10 glossy print of your artwork plus all files on a CD (Enlargements ordered separately)
·         Affordable pricing and installment payment plans so anyone can afford a custom photomontage. (Every photo used, whether yours or Nancy’s, is just $40/image)
·         USPS Priority Mail shipping, always free with your order! 

To commission an Ancestor Dreamscape, contact Nancy Gershman at 773-255-4677 or email me at nancy@ArtForYourSake.com. Projects are taken on a first-come-first-served basis. 

Be sure to tune into the next segment of Anita Will’s Blog Talk Radio show Anita Talks Genealogy” Wednesdays 7:00- 7:45 pm, and Fridays, 7:00-7:45 pm PST.

03 April, 2011

Cover Art for Legacy Works: It's Not Window Dressing

Linda Coffin knows one thing, and that is that narrative and design “simply must go hand-in-hand if we want to do justice to the story.” In a recent thread on The Association of Personal Historians listserv, Linda (founder of the full service company HistoryCrafters) articulates what many people in the life story industry feel about the relationship between good information design, rich imagery, good story-telling and emotion.

Linda writes:
“There are many compelling and well-written stories that go unread simply because they look amateurish or even downright bad. Too often design is treated as just window-dressing (as in "this isn't about a pretty design - it's about the story!"). Well, of course the story is the center of the whole thing. But most people are unaware of how much a good design can be a vital communication tool, telling its own story about the narrative and the narrator.”  
 Linda goes on to say:
“A case in point: my client's family was unhappy with his narrative, telling him that he hadn't put enough emotion into it and that it was boring to read. But now that I've redesigned the layout and given them a sample of the first chapter, the narrative flows in a clearly readable form. The photos are now sharp and crisp and sitting next to the text they illustrate. The chapter and topic divisions make sense. The headers and footers are correct and help guide you through the story. Guess what? Suddenly his family is thrilled. "Wow, Dad, this is great stuff," said the same son who earlier had complained that there was no emotion in his story. Same client, same material, same story, but much better design and production.”
High production values and original cover go hand-in-hand
What we're talking about is professional production values:
  • Chapters laid out like a good film, whether it runs linearly, in flashbacks or uses some other dramatic device 
  • Clear headers and footers; the equivalent of website “breadcrumbs” which show the reader where they came from and where they’re headed  
  • High resolution images (e.g. photographs and documents)with captions that correlate with the text and serve as self-guided tours, pointing out extraordinary visual details and back stories otherwise missed    
But there is yet another significant metamorphosis that professionally conceived life stories should undergo - a vital step that can make all the difference in the world. It is adding the line-item of original artwork for the cover of your legacy work (and, if budget allows, chapter art as well). Why artwork for the cover, versus just selecting one compelling photograph from your archives? Because art sends out the single most important message about our hero/heroine: it encapsulates the point-of-it-all. It communicates the meaning of the subject’s life and the point of the narrative directly into our right brains. And it accomplishes this complex story-telling, among many other things, with the medium's sensual expression of feeling, and the artist's intentional use of atmosphere, subject matter and props.

What kind of artwork is right for the cover of your legacy book, CD or DVD?

When it comes to recommending what imagery should become the “face” of your legacy project, your best bet is to defer to the project’s Creative Point Person. They may be, as in Linda Coffin's case, wearing multiple hats (as graphic designer and book editor, for example.) Their talent is knowing the importance of future generations seeing a “likeness” in the face or landscape on the cover. So they will be on the lookout from the beginning for visual imagery that subconsciously telegraphs the kind of people portrayed in your legacy work.  Whether it should be a digitally-enhanced photograph, a photo-realistic painting, a mixed media photo collage or even a surrealistic photomontage with whimsical objects will come down, in the end, to what best communicates the psychological “point-of-it-all.”

Most likely the Point Person will have touched every archival photograph in the possession of the family from the very beginning of the project. They will have been in the client’s home, and seen photographic portraits or paintings on the wall. They will have been the first to learn whether the subject had artistic proclivities in the “early years” (i.e. watercolors made in high school or a sketch on a napkin), or if the subject is still making art, they may be the very person to urge the subject to create a self-portrait for the cover. If a talented family member volunteers to create original artwork for the project, they will know right away whether this is a brilliant idea, or not. 

As a curator and full service graphic designer, professionals like Linda Coffin have an excellent sense of what kind of imagery belongs on the cover, because they have been living and breathing the “point-of-it-all” for months. They have edited the text and laid out the content in the most logical and entertaining manner possible. If it’s fitting, they may recommend that haunting photograph of the subject before (or after) a catastrophic event. If no truly striking photographs exist, they may recommend a mixed media piece that transforms a so-so photograph into a Renaissance portrait, complete with meaningful objects set in a backdrop that divulges the subject’s status, profession and even cause célèbre.

Ultimately, what you are paying for is your Point Person's heightened sense of objectivity. That "distance" from the project is precious because it enables them to pick up on the big patterns or themes behind a life review and bring the best one front and center.

So what are the proven winners in terms of cover art?

From the family:
  • Self-portraits: in any medium, executed at any age, by the subject (or) a family member 
  • Mixed media or photo collage work, combining multiple still photographs and artwork, by hand 

    From a professional artist, commissioned work, such as:
    • Portrait of the subject, at any age, in any medium (even a sculpture can be photographed and used as an image)
    Fig.1. The Journey of Henry Kagan. Artist: Lisa Kagan  

    • Photo collage or mixed media combining archival photographs, stills from archival film/video, with or without artwork (Fig. 2. Mixed media with one photo by Lisa Kagan of Family Heirloom Arts)
    Fig. 2. Tolya Serving His Country Artist: Nancy Gershman 
    • Digital fine art photomontage, seamlessly combining imagery from multiple archival or heritage vacation photographs together into a single scene, augmented by meaningful objects, clothing and accessories or landscapes researched and supplied by the digital artist (Fig. 2. Photomontage created from four photos by digital artist Nancy Gershman of Art For Your Sake)
    The effect is pure theatre, not just for the first generation of readers, but generations to come.  And that's why who you choose to package your legacy makes all the difference in the world.

    Nancy Gershman of Art For Your Sake is a digital artist specializing in fine art legacy portraiture for gifts and personal histories. As a post-therapy resource, Gershman also creates prescriptive photomontages for healing (bereavement, acceptance, relationship rifts and addictive behaviors) to counter loss and regrets.